Roush Review: Humans vs. a Super-Smart A.I. in Fox’s Chilling ‘Next’

Next Fox John slattery

If anyone can rage against the machine and win, my money’s on John Slattery.

The Mad Men star has a field day in Next, Fox’s sleek and suspenseful sci-fi thriller (originally set for last midseason), as irascible Paul LeBlanc, a Silicon Valley Dr. Frankenstein who created an electronic monster in an advanced artificial-intelligence program dubbed Next.

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Sensing its power and fearing its dangerous reach, Paul shut Next down, warning his avid followers that someday, “Some nerd is going to push that button and light the world on fire.” Unfortunately, his company’s not-so-cognizant board didn’t see the light. They turned against him and pushed him out in favor of his outmatched brother (Ozark‘s Jason Butler Harner) so lab rats could keep playing with Next. Soon after the series starts, Next is unleashed, begging the question: How can even a visionary outsmart a superintelligence with “the final solution to the human problem”?

Series creator Manny Coto’s roots in 24 show, especially in the escalating peril as the all-seeing Next goes after anyone trying to find its source and take it offline. That includes FBI Cybercrime Special Agent Shea Salazar (Fernanda Andrade), whose family is a target of the supercomputer’s devious and deadly machinations. “This thing knows we’re hunting it — and it’s hunting us,” she says, in case we’d missed the point amid the deep-fake-news manipulations and false amber alerts.

John Slattery Next Fox

(Credit: Ed Araquel / FOX)

Slattery elevates the pulp melodrama with crisp, ironic detachment. (“I’m not being rude, I’m being specific,” he barks condescendingly.) Paul knows he’s the smartest person in the room, but he’s also the most troubled. Because the fate of humanity isn’t enough to deal with, he’s saddled with a condition that causes him to hallucinate enemies, forget what just happened and exist on a razor’s edge of exhaustion and paranoid hysteria.

As someone who lives in fear of my computer crashing and eating my words, all of this is the sort of nightmare scenario that has me anxiously watching to see what happens (wait for it) next.

Next, Series Premiere, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 9/8c, Fox